Category Archives: Emerging Literacy

Raising Readers from Birth: An Interview with Kim Jocelyn Dickson

“I couldn’t actually meet the parents of my future students at the exit door of the maternity ward, so I wrote The Invisible Toolbox instead.”

I interviewed recently with dyslexia expert Don Winn. Don is an award-winning author of picture books and Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know.

Thanks so much, Don, for this opportunity! A great conversation about what really matters in the early years for EVERY child.

Book Talk: The Invisible Toolbox

by Adrian of the Westmont Public Library

Did you know that The Invisible Toolbox is available on audio too? It’s not only a quick read, it’s a fast listen, too, at just two hours. Here’s what Adrian, the youth services librarian at the Westmont Public Library, has to say about it:

“You may have heard that it’s important to read aloud to your child from birth, but you may not have heard why…”

The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence is available on audio as well as paperback through these links:

How Reading Inspired Jane Goodall’s Life Path

The Power of a Story to Ignite Imagination

Ground-breaking primatologist. Anthropologist. Conservationist. Speaker. Author.

Jane Goodall’s list of accomplishments is well known, but what may not be as widely recognized is how she came to be the remarkable woman she is today.

From early on British born Jane loved animals. In 1935, on the occasion of King George V’s silver jubilee celebrating 25 years on the throne, her father gave one year old Jane a stuffed chimpanzee in honor of the birth of Jubilee, a baby chimp born at the London Zoo the very same year.

Jane traces her early fascination with animals all the way back to her own little Jubilee who resides with her still in her childhood home in England. But it wasn’t until she was a little older that this affection expanded into a passion that would ultimately draw her into a career that changed the way the world understands animals.

She became an avid reader who found her way to the books that were right for her and, because of those books, she found her life’s passion.

As a young girl Jane grew into a voracious reader and spent hours at the public library or perched on stacks of books at her local second hand book shop. When she could save a little money, she was occasionally able to buy one. In a lovely letter to children published in A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, Jane explains how these books inspired her future:

“…in the summer I would take my special books up in my favorite tree in the garden. My Beech Tree. Up there I read stories of faraway places. I especially loved reading about Doctor Dolittle and how he learned to talk to the animals. And I read about Tarzan and the Apes. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read.”

At the age of ten Jane decided that when she grew up she would go to Africa to live with the animals and write books about them. And that is just what she did.

Jane’s story beautifully illustrates the power books have to inspire the human imagination.

One can’t help but wonder…what if Jane had grown up in a different time? Consider the present for instance. What if she’d had access to screens and the internet and never fell in love with reading as she did? Would Jane Goodall have become the person she is today?

I wonder.

By reading to our children from the beginning and supporting their love of reading throughout their childhood, every child’s imagination can be sparked and ignited.

Books have a unique capacity to fire the imagination. Neurologists now know that we humans experience reading fiction as if it’s actually happening to us. All parts of the brain are engaged when we read, not just the region that processes language—which is what we used to think. The deep and organic engagement that comes with written text doesn’t happen with fiction depicted through images on a screen. A book that a child becomes immersed in, however, literally becomes a part of them.

Jane read and reread the Tarzan books, developed a crush on the noble savage himself, and was quite put out at his choice of a partner. “He married the wrong Jane.”

Fortunately for Jane and for the world, she grew up in the time that she did. She became an avid reader who found her way to the books that were right for her and, because of those books, she found her life’s passion.

What does Jane’s story have to say to us today? Simply this. As parents it is our responsibility to nourish our children’s inner worlds.

Jane was fortunate in having parents who encouraged her to believe she could do whatever she set out to do. They also supported her love of reading.With the myriad distractions parents and children face today, helping children find their way to the books that inspire them is a taller order than it was in Jane’s time. But, it is definitely doable. By reading to our children from the beginning and supporting their love of reading throughout their childhood, every child’s imagination can be sparked and ignited.

And who knows where that might lead to?

3 Tips for When Your Toddler Won’t Sit Still for a Story…

Your baby has found their walking legs, and now—full of their own power and personal agency—sitting and looking at a book with you just doesn’t happen. They are on the move. Staying stationary and listening to a story? Yeah, right.

“I try to read to him, but he scoots off my lap and starts playing instead. Now what?”

This is a fairly common lament that I hear from parents, but it’s easily dealt with. Your little one doesn’t have to be on your lap or next to your side to benefit from your reading aloud to them. I’ll explain why in a moment and also share some tips for how to get around this.

But first, I want to remind you why it’s important to begin reading to your child from the beginning.

When you read to your baby you’re gifting them with tools they will use forever. One gift is that reading a story trains your child to pay attention. Some may balk at the word ‘train,’ but the fact is the ability to pay attention is a life skill that must be practiced in order to be learned. It happens, ideally, on the lap of a parent, and whether it’s taught—or not— will have long-ranging consequences for your child.

Along with learning to pay attention, your child also learns that being read to is a rewarding experience. You will have created buy-in for listening to a story and your child will likely eagerly look forward to it.

However, regardless of when you started reading to your child, there’s no need to worry when they won’t sit still for it.

Here are 3 simple tips for reading to that busy body:

1. Establish a read-aloud routine to match your child’s rhythm.

It’s easiest to encourage on-lap story time when your child’s energy level is not in high gear. When my son was a toddler we had two regular daily story times. Right after his bath and just before bedtime was perfect because he was already in wind-down mode. The other time was just after a nap when he was just re-awakening to the world. A bottle, a cuddle, a story or two, and then he was back in business.

2. Keep an eye out for a window of opportunity when you know your child needs a break.

You know as well as I do that there are moments when you’ve both just had it. When your little one is exhausted, but not yet ready for a nap—and you may be too. Grabbing a picture book or a book of nursery rhymes and settling down for a few minutes on the sofa or your favorite comfy chair may be just the thing to help them—and you—recharge. I always found these moments of downtime to be a welcome pause. Your child will too.

3. Read to that busy mover anyway.

Some children are simply wired to move more than others. Maybe your child simply won’t sit still long enough to listen to an entire story. No worries. They may prefer sitting on the floor playing with Thomas the Tank Engine. Let them be. Read to them anyway. They can hear you.

Here’s the secret to why reading to your child is beneficial, even if they aren’t sitting by your side or on your lap while you’re doing it. Your child will pick up on your feelings about what you’re doing. If you are enjoying the story—or at least the reading of it, and sometimes we really do have to work at that by having some fun doing voices—your child will absorb that. They will be listening to you even if they aren’t looking at the pictures. They may even circle back to check in and then return to their play a few times.

The key to reading to that active child of yours is simply to relax and have fun. Enjoy that story, regardless of whether you have a rapt audience sitting on your lap. Because if you do, you can be sure your little mover will too.

How Can I Help My Child Like Reading When (shhh!) I Don’t Really Like to Read Myself?

“It is never too late to parent yourself as well as your child.”

Once a parent understands that reading to their child is not just a good thing, but an essential thing that will enable them to reach their potential and bring great joy—fears and anxieties might emerge. A parent may wonder, how can I help my child fall in love with reading when I don’t love it myself? Where do I begin?

Excerpt from The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence:

Tool #1: Parent Yourself

“Parents who struggled with reading as children or who have never really discovered its pleasures for themselves may feel helpless or ill-equipped to lead. My advice to them is that this is not only your child’s golden opportunity to grow; this is your opportunity as well. One of parenting’s greatest benefits is having the chance to rework or recover experiences that we may have missed out on in our own childhoods. Do not misunderstand; I’m not promoting the type of vicarious living we see on the Little League field when overly aggressive parents relive their dreams of baseball glory through their children. The benefits I refer to have to do with the fact that when we raise children they open up new experiences to us through the worlds they are drawn to. This can happen with reading as well. If your experience with reading was difficult or unremarkable, doing right by your child gives you an opportunity to rework and overcome that. It is never too late to parent yourself as well as your child.”

Parents, you are not alone. There are tools and support out there for you to help you give your child the best possible start.

How the Love of Reading Saved Oprah’s Life and Unlocked Her Potential

Why Oprah’s early life of poverty, neglect, and abuse wasn’t the final word…

She’s one of the wealthiest, most powerful women in the world. She has excelled in every form of media. Her stamp of approval on anything in almost any sphere influences thousands. Maybe millions.

But when you consider her early years, the trajectory of Oprah’s extraordinary life is not one anyone would ever have predicted. Here are the facts:

  • She was born a black child to an impoverished unmarried teenage mother in the deep south in 1954
  • Oprah’s spent her earliest year living with her maternal grandmother Hattie Mae who taught her to read by age three, took her to church, and believed in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child.’ “Oprah was beaten almost daily.” (Krohn, Katherine E, “Oprah Winfrey: Global Media Leader,” USA Today)
  • Because they were so poor, she wore potato sacks for dresses and was made fun of
  • At age six Oprah went to live with her mother whose work as a maid left little time for her
  • An uncle molested her when she was nine years old.
  • At 14, Oprah ran away from home, became pregnant, and had a son who died shortly after birth

There’s scant reason to believe that a person with a background such as Oprah’s could overcome it and become not only functional, but an extraordinary success story.

So, what happened?

Although she had stayed with him intermittently in her younger years, as a teen Oprah went to live permanently with her father Vernon who was instrumental in helping her turn her life around. For the first time, she had consistent structure and encouragement. According to Oprah,

“…every single week of my life I lived with them I had to read library books and that was the beginning of my book club. Who knew? I was reading books and had to do book reports in my own house. Now, at 9 years old, nobody wants to have to do book reports in addition to what the school is asking you to do, but my father’s insistence that education was the open door to freedom is what allows me to stand here today a free woman.”

Unquestionably, Oprah exhibited innate intelligence and verbal gifts as a child—she learned to read by age three and her grandmother recalled her playing at interviewing her corncob doll. But the combination of loving discipline and bi-monthly trips to the library was the catalyst that changed her world. “We would go to the library and would draw books every two weeks. I would take out five books, and I would have a little reading time every day.” In high school, Oprah became an honors student and was voted Most Popular Girl. Her transformation had begun.

Poverty, neglect, and abuse are part of Oprah’s story, but they don’t define her now. Falling in love with books became the key that unlocked her intelligence, her innate verbal and empathetic gifts, and her ability to imagine a different life for herself. Reading opened new worlds for her and empowered Oprah to move out, little by little, into a life beyond the limitations and suffering of her childhood.

Source material:

Reading for Life: Oprah Winfrey,” American Libraries Magazine, May 25, 2011

“A Childhood Biography of Oprah Winfrey,” Blackfacts.com

The Invisible Toolbox: Available Now!

“Every child begins school with a lunchbox in one hand and an Invisible Toolbox in the other…”

Check out longtime elementary school teacher and author Kim Jocelyn Dickson’s overview of what The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence is all about and why she wrote it.

“Recent research in neuroscience tells us that 80% of the brain develops in the first three years of life. This is the time when the infrastructure of the brain is laying down actual physical pathways that will enable a child to fully access all that the world of school has to offer. 

Through reading to our children regularly, we not only build that infrastructure, filling their invisible toolboxes, we nurture the parent-child bond that is the foundation for a child’s motivation to learn.”

Just days after its release, The Invisible Toolbox is getting 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Also, check out what Amy Dickinson (syndicated columnist, Ask Amy), Jeff Conyers (President of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the Dollywood Foundation), and pediatricians Dr. Chang and Dr. Lin have to say about The Invisible Toolbox!

“The Greatest Gift of the Invisible Toolbox, or Why We Really Read”

If your family is feeling anxious and adrift in these uncertain times, a nightly read-aloud ritual can bring enormous comfort, not only to your children, but to you too.

Excerpt from The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence

“Reading aloud nurtures the parent-child connection. When reading aloud is part of a daily family routine it provides a steady point of connection both parent and child can look forward to and count on. Practicing this daily ritual communicates not only that reading is important, but that the child is important. Snuggling and cuddling up together with a book creates feelings of warmth and can even provide a bit of an oasis from daily pressures and burdens. 

Our daily ritual was such a source of comfort and security for him that even the novelty of having overnight company paled next to this important routine.

My son’s father and I divorced when he was quite young and our nightly story-time ritual meant a great deal to us both during those difficult days. One winter evening an old friend of mine from high school was visiting from out of town. After dinner and his bath my son, who was about five, trotted downstairs in his footed blue pjs, a book tucked under his arm. He marched right over to my friend who had settled into a rocking chair by the fire, and politely instructed her that she would have to move. A bit startled, she asked why.

“Because my mom and I have to toast our toes by the fire,” he answered matter-of-factly. 

‘Toasting our toes by the fire’ was code for our nightly ritual of snuggling up in the rocker by the fireplace and reading together. My son was not about to let anything or anyone interfere with this. Our daily ritual was such a source of comfort and security for him that even the novelty of having overnight company paled next to this important routine. The warmth and closeness of cuddling together with a book at the end of a long day meant just as much to me….”

April 14th. Available now for pre-order.

The Secret of the Invisible Toolbox: A Loving Letter from Your Child’s Future Teacher

Excerpt from the Introduction to The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence

“Dear New Parent,

Congratulations! Your precious little one is here. There is no feeling in the world more wonderful than holding your tiny newborn for the first time. Your heart expands with warmth and love and protection in a way you never could have imagined until now. As you begin a journey with this miraculous new life you have created that will take both of you far into the future, into places known and unknown, you will do everything in your power to ensure your baby’s path is as full of hope and promise as it can be. 

As well-meaning parents, we all want our children to thrive. Regular pediatrician visits, vaccinations, sleep routines, proper nutrition, feeding, bathing, cuddling—we do all of these things because we want what is best for them. But there is one more thing that is essential, and it’s one that is as important to our growing child as all the things we do to take care of our baby’s physical needs. This necessary thing is one that you may already know—or perhaps may have forgotten or haven’t fully understood. As someone who has been in your shoes as a parent and taught children just like yours in elementary school for decades, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about this essential thing over the years.

Flash forward five years, and imagine with me what your child will look like on their first day of kindergarten. At this moment, that day may seem a long way off, but believe me, it will be here before you know it. Can you see your child in the brand-new school clothes that you’ve bought for this special day, down to the sneakers with laces so white because they too have never been worn? Under a fresh haircut there may be a big grin or perhaps a look of apprehension. Your child knows it’s a big day, just as you do. On their back is a crisp new backpack and in one hand a lunchbox filled with favorite things. All of this equipment is recently acquired, full of promise and expectation for the future–and probably decorated with a favorite superhero or three. Who will that be, you wonder? The picture is almost, but not quite, complete. There is more. And here is the secret. 

In your little child’s other hand they carry something else. It’s a toolbox, but it’s invisible. Unseen though it is, it will be carried to school on the first day of kindergarten and every day after that all through your child’s academic career. Whether or not it contains the most essential tools will have an enormous impact on those years and far into the future…”

Pre-order now for April 14, 2020 publication

“It may be small, but it’s mighty…”

When I met my newborn book for the first time, it wasn’t love at first sight. I held the tiny tome* in my hand, eyeing it critically, wondering what people would think. Couldn’t she write a book with more pages? Would they think it lacked substance?

A smallish gift book was what I’d planned all along, a volume so not intimidating and so visually appealing that even the most reluctant parent reader would consider picking it up. But when my agent and I met with my editor and the company’s CEO last month via Zoom and learned that Mango had reversed their earlier decision and now planned to print The Invisible Toolbox in soft cover instead of hard, my heart dropped. I was not only disappointed; I was worried. Would a softcover gift book have the same appeal as hardcover?

Mango’s marketing department was concerned that titles comparable to mine were priced at a rate with which a hardcover book wouldn’t be able to compete. Like a wounded parent, I protested: But my book is unique! There isn’t anything out there quite like it. They weren’t moved. And so the decision was made. It was out of my hands.

“I wasn’t sure I could sell it. But then I couldn’t resist.”


When Federal Express left a carton of complimentary author copies on my doorstep this week, I called my agent. “It’s so little.”

She laughed. “Remember, I almost didn’t sign you because the book is so small. I wasn’t sure I could sell it. But then I couldn’t resist.” Julia believes in the message and understands what’s at stake. For her, it’s all about saving democracy. Maybe you’ve seen the meme: A child who reads will be an adult who thinks.

Thank you, Julia, for blowing away any lingering wisps of self-doubt. The Invisible Toolbox may be small. And it may even have a softcover. But its message is mighty.

* An oxymoron, I know, but I like the alliteration.